Laura Spencer

Arts Reporter

Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas. 

After moving home to Kansas City, she learned the fine art of editing reel-to-reel tape as an intern and graduate assistant with the nationally syndicated literary program New Letters on the Air. Since 2001, she's focused her efforts on writing and producing feature stories as KCUR's Arts Reporter. 

In 2011, Laura was one of 21 journalists selected for USC Annenberg’s seventh National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. She's received awards from the Associated Press, Kansas City Art Institute (Excellence in Visual Art and Education), Kansas City Association of Black Journalists, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Radio-Television News Directors Association (regional Edward R. Murrow Award) and Society for Professional Journalists. 


Arts & Culture
5:30 am
Sun January 25, 2015

LISTEN: Natasha Ria El-Scari On Black Poets Speaking Out

Natasha Ria El-Scari.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spoken word artist Natasha Ria El-Scari is a self-described feminist, educator, and a mother of two.

"I've always written out of the expression of love," says El-Scari. "Not out of the expression of pain." But she says she was "urged to do so" by the movement Black Poets Speak Out, which started in response to the events in Ferguson, Mo.

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Arts & Culture
7:30 am
Sun January 18, 2015

LISTEN: Lawrence Poet Brian Daldorph On Playing Poker With Death

Poet Brian Daldorph reading his work at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.
Credit Ann Palmer Photography

Poet Brian Daldorph is an assistant professor in the English department at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Since 2001, he’s led a creative writing class for inmates at the Douglas County Jail. This experience has inspired his own work. 

For our new series WORD, Daldorph reads "One Time." 

All of our WORD readings are archived on SoundCloud

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Arts & Culture
9:36 am
Thu January 15, 2015

The Glenwood Arts Theatre Closes On Metcalf

Mark Mossman changed the Glenwood Arts marquee on Thursday to announce the move from the (closed) Metcalf South Mall. Plans calls for merging with Leawood Theatre to become the Glenwood Arts at 95th and Mission Road.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR

When the Glenwood Arts Theatre at the Metcalf South Shopping Center closes on Jan. 25, it marks the end of an era, nearly 50 years of a Glenwood theater on Metcalf. 

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Up To Date
10:48 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Reproduction Of Harry S. Truman Portrait To Be Unveiled Wednesday At Library

This 1945 portrait of Harry S. Truman will be the latest addition to the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. A reproduction will be on permanent display at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library.
Credit Kansas City Missouri Public Library


A portrait from the early days of Harry S. Truman's presidency goes on display Wednesday at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library. A reproduction of the 1945 original, the painting is the latest addition to the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

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Arts & Culture
7:30 am
Sun January 11, 2015

LISTEN: Kansas City Poet Stanley Banks On Driving While Black

Stan Banks, and his wife Janet Banks, are both poets. Stan's poems launch our new series called WORD.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

For nearly 20 years, poet Stanley Banks has taught creative writing classes at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. An assistant professor of English, Banks is also an artist in residence. 

For our new series WORD, Banks reads the poem "Racial Profiling on A Visit to Emporia." 

All of our WORD readings are archived on SoundCloud

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Arts & Culture
8:01 am
Fri January 9, 2015

100 Years On, Kansas City Arts Organizations Explore Impact Of WWI

On Christmas Eve, singers with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's Veterans Chorus gathered at the Liberty Memorial to mark the centennial of the Christmas truce of 1914. They sang 'Silent Night' in three languages.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, many artists put their art-making on hold, leaving their studios for the battlefield. Some in the United States waited for years for their country to enter the conflict, and others forged a new path in neutral Switzerland. It was a time of radical approaches in music, visual arts and literature. And now, local arts organizations are marking the centennial of the Great War. 

Music reflects change

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Arts & Culture
12:07 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

Recent Deaths In The Arts Community Spark Reflection

Drummer Tommy Ruskin died on New Year's Day.
Credit courtesy of the family

Three notable arts figures died in Kansas City in recent weeks: Ann K. Brown, Brenda Nelson, and Tommy Ruskin.

Drummer Tommy Ruskin, 72, died the morning of Jan. 1, after a long illness.

A native of Kansas City, Ruskin’s career spanned nearly half a century. He began performing as a teenager with singers such as Marilyn Maye, and went on to play with other jazz greats like Al Cohn, Scott Hamilton, Gene Harris, Zoot Sims, and Bill Watrous.

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Arts & Culture
5:45 am
Tue December 23, 2014

A New Christmas Novel, Inspired By Charles Dickens, Takes Place In Topeka

Thomas Fox Averill's latest novel tells the story of Carol Dickens, whose life is in transition. She turns to cooking Victorian holiday meals, inspired by 'A Christmas Carol.'
Credit courtesy: Topeka Public Library

As a novelist, Thomas Fox Averill has explored country music, southwestern cuisine, Scotch whisky and the poetry of Robert Burns. 

Averill's fourth novel, A Carol Dickens Christmas, is a Christmas story, set in his hometown of Topeka, Kan. It's filled with recipes, puns, and modern characters inspired by Charles Dickens.  

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Arts & Culture
11:45 am
Mon December 22, 2014

Memorabilia Of Federal Reserve Employees Turned Into Art

The public sculpture project, commissioned by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, went on display in November 2014.
Credit courtesy: University of Kansas

More than 50 University of Kansas students, faculty and staff collaborated – over four semesters – to create a public sculpture project. The commissioned art, completed in mid-November, marked the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve System.

According to associate professor of art Matthew Burke, the team sifted through a collection of employee memorabilia, such as pens, stamps, and nameplates. 

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Arts & Culture
5:32 pm
Fri December 12, 2014

Warren Rosser Steps Down As Chair Of KCAI's Painting Department

'View From the Top,' oil on clayboard, 2013
courtesy: Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, KCMO

This week, colleagues and friends marked a ceremonial passing of the torch as Warren Rosser stepped down as chair of the painting department at the Kansas City Art Institute. 

"After 28 years, I think it was time to pass it on to someone else, so to speak," he says.

Rosser's tenure as chair of the department is reportedly the longest, to date. He's taught at the Art Institute for 42 years, and says he will continue to do so. 

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Arts & Culture
3:16 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

Kansas City's New Director Of Creative Services Names Her Top Three Priorities

Megan Crigger has been appointed the first Director of Creative Services for Kansas City, Mo. She starts on January 5.
Credit courtesy of Artist INC.

Kansas City, Mo., officials announced the first director of creative services Wednesday. 

Megan Crigger is an arts professional with nearly 20 years of experience in Austin, Texas. Most recently, she served as that city's cultural arts division manager with a focus on tourism, arts and culture. 

"Things that are my priority so align with what Kansas City is focused on that it just feels like a great natural fit," Crigger says. 

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Arts & Culture
5:57 pm
Fri December 5, 2014

A Thomas Hart Benton Painting Returns To Missouri

President Harry Truman, a native of Missouri, acquired Thomas Hart Benton's 'The New Fence,' so the college could present it to Sir Winston Churchill.
Credit courtesy: National Churchill Museum

It's been away for nearly 70 years, but this week, a Thomas Hart Benton painting called "The New Fence" returned to Missouri. 

In 1946, Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., gifted the Benton painting to Sir Winston Churchill. It was Churchill’s request, in lieu of payment, for a college lecture that later became known as the historic “Iron Curtain” speech.

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Arts & Culture
2:19 pm
Fri December 5, 2014

Submit Your Story Or Poem To WORD

The KCUR Arts team asked for submissions on December 5, 2014. Since then we’ve received more than 200 poems, essays, and short stories to consider. From those, we’ve already selected the first few months of Word episodes.

But we still have a lot of submissions to read, and because we want to give all of them a thoughtful review, we’re hitting “Pause” and closing submissions for now. More information is here.

Thank you for your interest in WORD.

Arts & Culture
11:44 am
Wed December 3, 2014

Former Secretary Of State Madeleine Albright's Jewelry Diplomacy

Serpent Pin, circa 1860. Designer unknown. Secretary Albright wore this golden snake brooch to a meeting on Iraq after Saddam Hussein's press called her a serpent.
John Bigelow Taylor

As U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then the first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright often signaled her mood or opinions with the brooch she had pinned to her suit. 

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Arts & Culture
6:06 am
Wed December 3, 2014

The Missing Piece Of The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain Returns

Workers on Tuesday prepared to remove the sculptures, and installed a fence around the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain in Mill Creek Park.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

The bronze figures on horseback and children riding fish that are part of the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., will be removed Wednesday for an extensive renovation.

"This is the iconic fountain for Kansas City," says Jocelyn Ball-Edson, landscape architect for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. "We have a lot of fountains. We love them all, but this is probably the one that gets the most photography and the most visibility."

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Arts & Culture
5:28 pm
Mon December 1, 2014

Curator Danny Orendorff On An Artistic Response To Ferguson

Kansas City artist Sean Starowitz collaborated with Lauren Tweedle on this flag project for The Griot Museum of Black History, one of more than a dozen galleries in St. Louis, Mo. showing work responding to the death of Michael Brown.
Credit courtesy of the artist

Ferguson, Mo., has been a site of civil unrest since August when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Tensions flared again last week when a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.

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Arts & Culture
11:05 am
Mon December 1, 2014

PHOTOS: A Glimpse At Johnson County's Mid-Century Modern Architecture

A new exhibition at the Johnson County Museum in Shawnee, Kan., attempts to answer a tough question: What is modernism?

After World War II, architecture across the United States went through a radical, modern transformation. And Johnson County, Kan. was no exception. It was a time when North Americans believed "the future was bright and possibilities were endless."

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Arts & Culture
1:18 pm
Fri November 21, 2014

Kansas City Artist Uses Bread As A Means Of Social Change

In one of his community projects, Fresh Bread, Sean Starowitz set up shop in vacant lots and sold bread, priced for the neighborhood.
Credit Sean Starowitz / Courtesy photo

Bread can serve as an important connector between people.

It can fuel discussions, break through social barriers and institute change. 

A 2014 Charlotte Street Foundation award winner, Sean Starowitz is an artist whose work is hard to place on the walls of galleries. As the artist-in-residence at Farm to Market Bread Co., his projects often focus on bread and community. 

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Arts & Culture
6:30 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

Kansas City Art Institute Names New Interim President

Tony Jones, chancellor and president emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will serve as the interim president of the Kansas City Art Institute.
Credit James Prinz / Courtesy: Kansas City Art Institute

The Kansas City Art Institute Thursday announced new leadership — at least for the next 18 months. Starting Dec. 3, Tony Jones, chancellor and president emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will step in as interim president. 

Stephen Metzler, chair of the KCAI board of trustees, has served this role since August, when former president Jacqueline Chanda retired. 

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Arts & Culture
10:56 am
Thu November 20, 2014

New Release Brings Subterranean Sounds From 1960s, 1970s To Light

The new release, Local Customs: Cavern Sound features previously unreleased recordings by bands like Tide, the Reactions, Burlington Express, Faright, and more.
courtesy: The Numero Group

It was described as "one of the strangest recording studios ever built."

In the 1960s and 1970s, musicians found their way to Cavern Sound, a studio in an underground cave in Independence, Mo. James Brown and Brewer and Shipley recorded there. But so did garage bands, school choirs, gospel groups, and folk duos at a rate of $300 a day.

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Arts & Culture
4:59 pm
Mon November 17, 2014

Lawrence City Commission To Consider Design Team For 9th Street Corridor Project

Credit courtesy: el dorado inc.

Update: Lawrence residents expressed concerns after reading the entire ArtPlace grant application, which had not been been made available to the public until this week. The grant listed architecture firm el dorado inc. as the lead project designer, but the firm was not officially selected by a committee until this month.

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Arts & Culture
4:04 pm
Sat November 15, 2014

Library's MakerSpace: More Sewing, Recording, 3-D Printing To Come

An example of 3-D printing created in the MakerSpace at the Johnson County Central Resource Library.
Credit courtesy: Johnson County Library

The Johnson County Library Foundation recently announced a $70,360 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The funds will boost the scope of the MakerSpace at the Central Resource Library, 9875 West 87th Street, Overland Park, Kan. 

The MakerSpace opened in 2013. It’s where you can learn to sew, record music, or print something in 3-D.

Kate McNair, teen services coordinating librarian, says demand for the MakerSpace, with its tools and technology, exceeds capacity. 

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Up to Date
1:29 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

DVD Gurus: Film Noir

Actress Peggy Cummins joined Steve Kraske and the DVD Gurus in the studio.
Credit Beth Lipoff / KCUR

Beautiful women, crime and doomed lovers dominate the screen when it comes to film noir. At their height, these films featured star players, such as Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster and Marilyn Monroe.

On Friday's Up to Date, our DVD Gurus highlighted their favorites of the genre. We also talked with a few special guests from the Noir City film festival.

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Arts & Culture
8:11 am
Fri November 14, 2014

Lawrence Residents Weigh In On Plans For East 9th Street

Artwork and studios, like artist Dave Loewenstein's on E. 9th Street, are not uncommon in East Lawrence.
Laura Spencer KCUR

East Lawrence, Kan., is a mecca for artists with its affordable housing and studio space.

But an influx of funds for creative placemaking could change all that.

In June 2014, Lawrence Arts Center received a $500,000 ArtPlace America grant. The 9th Street Corridor project calls for a transformation of six blocks between New Hampshire and Delaware streets.  The plan includes "multimodal paths, upgrade amenities, and new models of urban infrastructure" along with art. 

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Up To Date
1:08 pm
Tue November 11, 2014

Astronaut Chris Hadfield On His New Book And Tweeting In Space

Astronaut Chris Hadfield was a guest on KCUR's Up to Date.
Credit Beth Lipoff / KCUR

For five months, from December 2012 to May 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield served as the commander of the International Space Station.

Hadfield conducted a record-setting number of scientific experiments. He also gained a reputation as the "most social media savvy astronaut" by sharing his daily life, posting photos on Tumblr and Twitter and videos on YouTube. 

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Arts & Culture
11:26 am
Wed November 5, 2014

Middle Eastern Character Allows Middle Eastern Actor To ‘Tell Her Truth’ At The Rep

Actor Kat Nejat, as Mahwish, says she identified with her character’s need to assimilate and appear as “homogenous” as possible.
Julie Denesha KCUR

In the play The Who & The What and the novel American Dervish, Ayad Akhtar explores some of the challenges of being a Muslim in America.

The Who & The What — a family drama currently at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre — reveals the tensions that surface when Zarina, the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant named Afzal, writes a novel that challenges traditional notions about women and Islam. The play premiered in February at La Jolla Playhouse in Los Angeles and was also staged this year at Lincoln Center in New York. 

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Arts & Culture
7:49 am
Mon November 3, 2014

Johnson County Library Examines Issues Relating To Race In 'Beyond Skin'

The "Beyond Skin" group exhibition at the Central Resource Library is one of eight current library exhibitions.
courtesy: Johnson County Public Library

Johnson County is the largest and fastest-growing county in Kansas.

And it’s becoming more diverse. But if you take a quick look at the latest census numbers, the population is still more than 80 percent white. It’s also about 7 percent Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent Asian, and 5 percent African-American.

This fall, the library launched a series of programs called Beyond Skin

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Up To Date
12:57 pm
Wed October 29, 2014

DiDonato Invites 40,000 Fans To Sing With Her At Kauffman Stadium

Mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, a Royals fan for decades, sings the National Anthem on Wednesday.
Credit courtesy: Joyce DiDonato

After a social media campaign with the twitter hashtag #LetJoyceSing, a petition, an invitation from Major League Baseball to sing in Game 7 of the World Series -- and the Royals victory that assured there would be a Game 7, Prairie Village, Kan. native Joyce DiDonato is ready to sing the National Anthem in the final game.

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Arts & Culture
5:14 pm
Mon October 27, 2014

World Series National Anthem Update: Game 6, Kansas City Symphony; Game 7, Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato is not available to sing the National Anthem before Game 6, but she plans to perform it if there's a game Game 7.
Credit courtesy: Carnegie Hall

Classical musicians will be taking center stage during the final games of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

About 20, or as many as 60, members of the Kansas City Symphony, decked out in blue suits with blue accents, are scheduled to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the pre-game ceremonies of Game 6 on Tuesday night. Music director Michael Stern is flying back Tuesday afternoon in time to conduct. 

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Arts & Culture
8:33 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Artists As Parents Inspired By Choices

"The Big Hug" by Jason Needham is featured on one side of a billboard, an ARTBOARD, atop Missouri Bank in the Crossroads. It's on display through November.
courtesy: the artist

Making art requires dedication and time – lots of it. Add a child to the mix and having a career as an artist can be a challenge. Some put their art practice on hold to raise a family; others adapt to making art when they can. And, sometimes, a child can lead to inspiration. 

Artwork changes from edgy to uplifting 

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